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The Driver (2014)
Good not brilliant
Life is tough for troubled muggle, Vince McKee (David Morrissey). No bed of roses at home and finding it tough making a living as a cabbie in Manchester's rain-drenched streets. His fares either puke on his seats then don't pay or they have no cash and steal his day's earnings. This all changes when Mickey (Ian Hart) - just out after a six year stretch inside - suggests Vince does some driving for his gangster boss, Horse (Colm Meaney). Things start to go belly up soon after as he realizes there's no way back from a life in crime.
With so many tough acts to follow - Sherlock, The Fall, Broadchurch, Utopia, etc - The Driver really needs deliver something unexpected to help it stand out; this it roundly fails to do. It manages to be adequate in all domains: The dialogue, the plot, the direction, the camera-work, the performances, the action are all good though there's nothing that jumps off the screen. That said, there are two stand-out performances: Sacha Parkinson as Vince's daughter and Harish Patel as Vince's minicab boss.
David Morrissey's character grows ever more annoying as he dithers between his lives at home and in crime. In a way, he's morally gray: He's unable to invest himself in normal family life and clearly not cut out to be a criminal. His big problem is he's just not that interesting, nor are his reactions to criminality very compelling. His best moment comes when he tries to recontact his estranged son who is living in a commune. We get a brief glimpse of fire amongst barely glowing embers.
With a series called The Driver it's hard not to look for references to Nicolas Winding Refn's superb "Drive", but there are none. Although there is nothing much to remember about The Driver, the action sequences are well-handled and there are some nifty camera moves in Vince's car. The big question that this miniseries leaves you with is why oh why would a competent gangster trust the job of getaway driver to a civilian cab driver who's scared witless?
Relentless, fever-pitched, edge-of-the-seat boredom!
You know the pitch: There's a runaway train laden with chemicals that are both poisonous AND explosive. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine star so it must be up to them to stop it from careening off the tracks into a gas depot slap bang in the middle of a densely populated town. Fantastic? No, it's actually based-on-a-true-story! Will the runaway crash into the train laden with schoolchildren in the first half hour? Will the bit part actor succeed in halting it at minute 45? Will the big bad boss choose the wrong strategy in his attempt to stop it? Will our heroes disobey boss-man and put the brakes on the runaway? Pick the obvious answer to all these questions and you've got the plot! Cue shots of Chris Pine trying to reach his estranged wife while his walkie-talkie barks "Pick up the walkie-talkie, Will!" Cue lots of people in control rooms punching the air while mouthing "Go, Frank, go!". Cue loved-ones in bars staring at screens showing our heroes in mortal peril. This is Tony Scott so every shot MUST be tracking, zooming or vibrating; and that's before the action starts. Scott is a master of filming fast-moving metal objects but where is the tension supposed to come from when the resolution of each situation is so staggeringly obvious? Washington, Pine and Dawson are all a pleasure to watch but beyond them there's little to engage the interest if high-speed objects don't turn you on.
Appalling film; depressing experience...
Zero concept feature from popular French comic, Elie Semoun. A spotty geek is transformed into ravishing sex god whenever he applies a certain perfume. He gets the girl of his dreams, the girl next door and few more besides. The perfume comes to him after replying to a spam offering to fulfill his wildest dream. The magic is never explained and the perfume comes free; no selling of soul to devil necessary. The problem being that he is transformed into a bewigged 70's throw-back complete with cheap Elvis shades. And no-one, not even the girl-next-door character, spots the transformation. Even if you buy into this worn-out device there is no hint of originality, wit or truth in any of the proceedings. The production values are cheap - several shots are completely out of focus - and the presence of Catherine Deneuve - Why, oh why did she agree to be in this? - does little to alleviate the boredom. How did a scenario this lame ever get the green light?
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Beware of the blurring of lines between fiction and reality!
The most important element of this film is the disclaimer that precedes the action. It says that the film is BASED on real people and real events. Idi Amin was a real person; Garrigan was not. Giles Foden - on whose book this film is based - uses the fictional Garrigan as a device to reveal his portrait of Amin.
Forest Whitaker is excellent in the role but I could not get past the fact that it was an actor - a very good one - giving a performance. Try as I might but I could not find him scary. For me Whitaker's humanity shines through. What has been a strength in other performances is a weakness here. Wait until the end for footage of the REAL Amin for a truly terrifying glimpse of controlled madness.
James McAvoy too is excellent. There's glory in portraying an evil despot but little in playing his fool! In a way McAvoy's is a much braver performance than Whitaker's. In all, a very good film but beware of the blurring of lines between fiction and reality!
10 carat stinker
Watch Ben Stiller's face... Is he having a good time? Watch mine in front of this garbage... Me neither. The plot - such as it is - becomes apparent in the first few minutes. From there on in it's sort of a Join-the-Dots entertainment. You will not get away from the feeling that you've been here before... Many times! I could not write a spoiler for this movie if I tried. Yes, the story is that obvious. I've enjoyed both leads - Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore - in other productions; but here, due to a script beyond salvage, they are virtually unwatchable. If you actually make it through to the end of this disaster without sleeping, retching or screaming then you deserve exactly what you get: A 10-carat Stinker.
Toutes ces belles promesses (2003)
Well played but unengaging
Director Civeyrac's film is a rather cerebral affair. The heroine, beautifully played by Jeanne Balibar, travels to meet her dead father's mistress (Bulle Ogier) who helps her to choose freedom over love and passion. (No wonder this film has
failed to find a distributer in France!) Flashbacks are used to good effect, usually with a window or mirror as point of entry. He should get an award for 'Best use of Hats': I found the idea of desire passing from one person to another by means of a hat really effective. The film is slow, beautiful and quite without the slightest trace of humour.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Not yet Polanski's return to form...
I spent much of this film waiting for something to happen and was disappointed. Polanski conjures little tension from an uneven script, a variable cast - Frank Langella (great!), Johnny Depp (on autopilot), Emmanuelle Seigner (dead-pan) - and an all-star crew - Darius Khondji, Dean Tavoularis, Anthony Powell. Remember 'The Tenant', 'Repulsion' and 'Rosemary's Baby'... Polanski's ability to disturb is not much in evidence here.
Sling Blade (1996)
Billy Bob Thornton doesn't put a foot wrong. Carl Childers is an extraordinary character. The dialogue is superb. An Oscar well-deserved. A film that stands repeated viewing. A Must See.
Head Above Water (1996)
Turgid dialogue, feeble characterization - Harvey Keitel a judge? He plays more like an off-duty hitman - and a tension-free plot conspire to make one of the unfunniest films of all time. You feel sorry for the cast as they try to extract comedy from a dire and lifeless script. Avoid!